Do you need a passport to take a cruise?

March 12, 2014 |

Maybe you frequently embark on domestic business travel but have never been abroad and thus had no reason to get a passport in the past. But now you’re ready to plan a cruise for a relaxing sun-soaked getaway and the question arises: “Do I need a passport to take a cruise?” The short answer is, “It depends,” but the answer that requires a lengthier explanation is “Definitely.” Here’s why:

Closed-loop cruises

There are some quirky laws dating back to the late 1800s that still determine the routes cruise ships are able to take today and whether they can arrive at a different port in the United States than where they started. According to the law, U.S. citizens who take closed-loop cruises – that return to the same U.S. port from which they started – do not need legally need a passport. Instead, they can embark on the cruise with their original birth certificate and a photo ID.

However, though it’s not required by the government or cruise lines, it’s highly recommended that you have a passport before hopping on a cruise. Some cruise lines even require it as their own policy. Here’s are the myriad reasons why:

Caribbean port requirements

Though the U.S. government doesn’t require a passport for closed-loop cruise travel, it’s possible that a Caribbean island that you are docking in, for example, will require you have a passport to enter their country. Passengers are responsible for finding out this information on their own by checking with the travel agent, cruise ship or destination country.

In case of injury

Another instance where it’s vital to have a passport is if you are injured in a country and cannot return to the ship. In that case, you will not be allowed to fly out of the country you are in without a passport! Though this is unlikely to happen, it’s often wise to plan for the worst.

In case you fail to disembark

In some instances, if you are late and miss boarding the ship, you will be allowed to fly to the cruise ship’s first foreign port of call and meet your cruise there. However, you will be required to have a passport to fly. The same is true if you miss boarding the ship in a docking point – you’ll need that passport to catch a plane out of the country.

Thus, it’s highly recommended – vital, even – to have a passport for any type of cruise you take, just to be on the safe side so your vacation getaways are not ruined by poor planning!

Applying for a passport

If you’ve never had a passport before, you must apply in person. You can apply for your passport at most post offices in the U.S., and it generally takes between four to six weeks to receive your official passport, so make sure to get it early! Here’s more information about applying for your U.S. passport, including how much it costs and photo requirements.